You can’t talk about film without talking about Germany.
I’ve co-produced a film in Germany, and was tremendously impressed by the sheer size of the industry and the high level of the professionals working in it. It’s probably the largest, most dynamic film industry in Europe.
During a stay in Berlin last year, I had the opportunity to discover many fabulous films. My favorite experience was of watching “Oh boy” at the Freiluftkino (open air cinema) in Kreuzberg, one of Berlin’s coolest neighborhoods.
Some of the greatest masters of the art of moving images came from the land of Goethe and Schiller.
But hey, German movies aren’t just important from a historic standpoint, they’re also a fun and useful resource for German learners!
Okay, so you might hear the words “German film” and instantly think of Herzog, Fassbinder and other “brainy” filmmakers.
But I’ve got news for you: Whatever kind of movies you love, Germans have made them and done a great job of it!
Germans produce films and TV in many popular genres, including horror, comedy and science fiction.
Plus, films are simply ideal for learning German.
I actually think the improvement of my German during my stay in Berlin is owed more to the movies I watched there than to having held conversations in German!
Benefits of Watching German Films on Netflix
Wherever you may be in the world, chances are you only hear about German films after they’ve received an Oscar nod, like blockbusters “Good Bye, Lenin!” or “Das Leben der anderen” (The Lives of Others).
But fortunately, Netflix has expanded all over the world incredibly fast. Thanks to this expansion, the company is now offering more and more foreign films every day, and German films are no exception.
This is great news for German learners, as the benefits of watching films to learn German are manifold.
- Original language films with subtitles are great for language learners. If your German is from intermediate to advanced, there are lots of films you can watch with closed captions in German, which is even better. As Netflix offers many subtitle options, it’s an ideal platform for language learners.
- You have the ability to rewind and replay to learn vocabulary. You may prefer to watch the whole movie without stopping it the first time around, but if you found some cool slang in it that you wish you could learn, Netflix allows you to scroll through the movie to find it and replay it to your heart’s content.
- You’ll learn colloquial German and common expressions. Other than visiting a German speaking country, there’s no better way to learn slang and colloquial language than watching movies. I cannot say enough about this, as I’ve learned half the languages I know almost exclusively from watching movies. Books often teach you expressions that people seldom use, while contemporary movies offer you a more current and real-life version of the language.
- You’ll get access to a great selection of quality films. Netflix offers a curated collection. As such, it leans toward the side of quality. Entertaining films can make learning fun, and Netflix is one of the world’s top choices when it comes to entertainment today.
11 Fabulous German Movies on Netflix to Improve Your Deutsch
Popular with teenagers and the late Roger Ebert, who gave it an unusual 5-star rating, Lore is an endearing coming-of-age story set in the complicated times at the end of World War II. As the protagonist, Lore, comes of age, she also has to come to terms with the fact that her hero, Hitler, was a genocidal maniac.
Because it deals mostly with the world of children and teenagers, “Lore” has lengthy sections of simple language that even the least advanced learners can appreciate and understand.
This is probably one of the greatest and most terrifying German films of all time. Directed by Oscar winner Michael Haneke, “Funny Games” is set in a vacation spot by a lake, where the high society has their summer homes. Everything starts off as quite ordinary and uneventful. Families go on holiday, the sun shines, everything is quiet. I don’t want to spoil the plot for you, but suffice it to say that an unexpected visit turns this bucolic scene into a German version of “A Clockwork Orange.”
Fortunately, Haneke doesn’t need very elaborate language to create tension, and anyone from intermediate level up can understand. It’s not necessarily the kind of flick you watch twice, but it’s a heavy film that will linger with you long after you watch it. Haneke also shot an English version starring the great Tim Roth.
3. “Die Welle” (The Wave)
How did Hitler convince people? Is it possible to do what he did? A professor does an experiment at a university to try to answer these questions. Naturally, the experiment gets out of hand.
This immensely popular film is about the big questions of life. It has deep philosophical implications and will probably alter the way you view mass phenomena forever.
If you want to take the experience one step further, you can check out this great German language study guide. The film offers some complex discussions that may be harder to follow, but also slang and language spoken by young people.
Learning this type of language is especially useful, and by now you probably realize that learning German isn’t just about cramming grammar, it’s about understanding the language as it’s actually used every day.
These movies on Netflix are a great start, and you can continue to expose yourself to real-world German with music videos, commercials, news, and inspiring talks.
Watching a fun video, but having trouble understanding it? FluentU brings native videos within reach with interactive transcripts.
You can tap on any word to look it up instantly. Every definition has examples that have been written to help you understand how the word is used. If you see an interesting word you don’t know, you can add it to a vocab list.
And FluentU isn’t just for watching videos. It’s a complete platform for learning. It’s designed to effectively teach you all the vocabulary from any video. Swipe left or right to see more examples of the word you’re on.
The best part is that FluentU keeps track of the vocabulary that you’re learning, and it recommends you examples and videos based on the words you’ve already learned. This is a level of personalization that hasn’t been done before.
4. “Wir Sind die Nacht” (We Are the Night)
Sexy vampire girls and undercover cops will delight fans of the popular vampire story genre. There’s also romance in the mix, as the film’s conflict centers around the choice between eternal love and eternal life. This film, also by the director of “Die Welle,” will entertain you as you learn German without even realizing it.
If you’re interested in philosophy or Germany’s favorite (or perhaps least favorite) subject, namely World War II, you’ll devour this fantastic drama about influential female philosopher Hannah Arendt.
The story revolves around her theory of the banality of evil, and how evil became something banal and ordinary for Nazis. It’s more complex than that, but that’s the gist of it. Some people took her theories to heart and she suffered harassment as a result. The character is fascinating, masterfully portrayed by the great Barbara Sukowa.
This film is full of complex language, and because it deals with arguments and counter-arguments revolving around the same topic, it can be a great learning tool.
Very rarely, films manage to capture the essence of an era. “Good Bye, Lenin!” which portrays the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall, is one of them.
It’s built around a hilarious premise: A woman is in a coma when the wall falls, and her son wants to pretend nothing has happened when she wakes up. The film has lots of great comedic moments, but also many moments that are moving and dramatic. It really is a jewel of a movie, and it served to launch Daniel Brühl’s international acting career.
In terms of language, it’s highly approachable and recommended for all German learners.
7. “Das Leben der Anderen” (The Lives of Others)
“Das Leben der Anderen” is truly a masterpiece and a rightful Oscar winner. It tells the story of an informer living in Soviet Germany. More than portraying the evils of a controlling state, it’s a film that raises important questions about morality and trust.
Is it ever justified to spy on people? When regimes pass, should people pay for the sins committed in the sphere of the state? Ultimately, it’s a film about good, evil and the blurry lines in between.
If you’re a beginner, you’ll probably get lost at certain points, but that shouldn’t deter you from enjoying this amazing film.
8. “Hitlers Kinder” (Hitler’s Children)
Even today, I find that Germans are haunted by their country’s dark past. German television shows at least one film dealing with Nazis almost daily.
“Hitler’s Children” answers to this national trauma by putting the descendants of Hitler’s inner circle in the spotlight. The result is a harrowing documentary that reveals much more about humanity as a whole than about Nazis in particular.
How did Hitler win over children? How did his ideas conquer so many otherwise moral human beings? These are questions the film attempts to explore.
Because it deals with a complex subject, which requires complex language, this film is ideal for intermediate and advanced learners.
9. “What a Man”
This film has a hilarious premise. In fact, I’m surprised Hollywood hasn’t done a remake yet. Alex is a 30-year old schoolteacher who is forced into a journey of self-discovery after his girlfriend dumps him for not being “manly enough.” If you enjoy witty rom-coms, this is the film for you.
This comedy often uses humor rooted in wordplay and linguistic wit, which may make this film hard to follow for beginners. But whatever your level may be, if you watch it with German subs you can learn a lot of interesting common expressions.
10. “Der Untergang” (The Downfall)
If you’ve seen Bruno Ganz playing a lovable angel in “Himmer über Berlin” (Wings of Desire) you’ll hardly recognize him in his portrayal of Hitler in this incredibly historically accurate film about the infamous figure’s downfall.
Nominated for an Academy Award, this film portrays the events that took place within Hitler’s inner circle as the Allies were closing in on Berlin. By shifting the focus from the battlefields and concentration camps to family life and Hitler’s relationships with the people around him, the film succeeds in making a million-times-told tale feel brand new.
Ganz speaks with Hitler’s obscure Austrian accent, which is great for accuracy, but don’t feel bad if you don’t understand much of what he’s saying! The rest of the characters should do better service to your language learning.
11. “A Coffee in Berlin” (Oh Boy)
This film has the simplest plot: A boy tries to get coffee. That’s it, at least on the surface.
His father is paying for college, but he would rather bum around the Berlin streets and experience life itself. My favorite thing about this film is that it shows the Berlin you might experience if you’re there as a tourist. For anyone who’s been to Berlin, “Oh Boy” will provide lots of enjoyable “Aha!” moments.
So if you’re curious to learn how the kids are talking around the streets of Berlin these days, you may wanna check this film out. It’s a really enjoyable comedy, and language learners of any level can benefit from watching it.
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